Do you know what your dog's body needs to thrive? Your dog's nutrition is the foundation of their health, so let's take a look at what they need so you can find a diet that supports them.
From how they are built to what they eat, your dog has unique qualities and functions that can only be nourished with the right nutrition. To find the best diet for your dog, you need to understand what your dog needs to stay healthy and active.
What do dogs need in their diet?
Every Dog is Different
Like our own diets, your dog's nutritional needs aren't always black and white - the same goes for your dog's energy requirements. From body weight to breed, different dogs require different nourishment.
There are many differing opinions when it comes to nutrition. To make matters worse, businesses are better than ever at playing off of our emotions and common misconceptions about our pets to convince us to buy their product.
With so many different feeding options out there, how could you possibly know which one is the right food for your dog?
Before we can dive into helping you find the right food, it will help to understand how your dog’s body works and what nutrients are necessary for them to thrive.
So, what nutrients do dogs need?
In this article, we take a very hard look at your dog's nutritional needs. This is a great starting point as you try to determine the best food for your dog.
Are Dogs Carnivores?
Not all carnivores are the same, and dogs fall into a unique category of carnivores.
Wait, what!?! Yep, I said dogs are carnivores.
Most dog owners don’t want to think of their beloved furry friend as a hunter or meat eater. When the question is asked, “Are dogs carnivores?” Dog lovers cringe at the answer, “Yes.”
In reality, your beloved family pet is not very far removed from their wolf ancestors. They will feast on a deceased animal carcass due to their opportunistic nature, and they will also hunt small prey.
Many dog breeds, such as German Shepherds, Alaskan Malamutes, Jack Russell Terriers, and Dobermans, all have strong prey drive characteristics.
What is a Carnivore?
A carnivore is defined as an animal whose nutritional requirements cannot be met with plant protein alone. This means that they need a primarily meat-based diet to survive.
When we talk about carnivores, the definition above is what comes to mind, right?
To be more specific, that definition is referring to an obligate carnivore. Obligate carnivores, like cats, would struggle to survive without animal protein in their diet.
Dogs are not obligate carnivores. The more appropriate classification for dogs is a scavenging carnivore. Generally, a scavenger is an animal that eats mostly dead things. They feed on leftover carcasses and fallen plants.
They play an important role in the animal kingdom as they eat the leftovers of other animals. This doesn't mean that they can't or don't hunt live prey too.
Live prey is, more often than not, in short supply in the wild, so scavenging for whatever meat sources are available is how many wild dogs and other scavenging animals have survived.
Are Dogs Carnivores or Omnivores?
Though dogs are carnivores, their diet classification is often misinterpreted as an omnivorous diet.
In the wild, dogs eat whatever food sources they can find. When food is scarce, animal protein may not be easily available for days or even weeks at a time. They must be able to survive on a meatless diet but will naturally gravitate towards animal protein when it is available.
It begs the question, though, just because they can, does that mean they should?
Evidence of Carnivorous Tendencies in Dogs
In one of the largest studies ever undertaken, Fleming et al. 2001, researchers examined the stomachs of 13,000 feral domestic dogs and dingo hybrids across six climatic regions in Australia. They found that the animal's diet was made up of 97% protein from the following sources:
- 72% rabbits and kangaroos.
- 25% birds, fish, reptiles, frogs, crags, and insects.
The plant contribution in the stomachs was only 3% and was predominately seeds which were probably consumed from the stomach content of the birds that the canines ate.
When we assess your dog’s physical characteristics, it’s obvious that they show many carnivorous traits. From teeth to tails, dogs are built like carnivores, despite their omnivorous abilities.
Five Carnivore Traits
Let’s take a look at some of the traits that scream carnivore. This will help you understand why we consider dogs scavenging carnivores and why a meat-based diet will benefit your dog’s health.
All plants have an outer casing made of cellulose, which is an indigestible fibre. For any of the nutrients from the plant to be digested, the cellulose casing needs to be removed.
Omnivores and herbivores use their flat molars to grind the plant material, making the plant nutrients accessible and easy to digest.
Unlike an omnivore, your dog is equipped with sharp, serrated molars and a wide-set jaw that moves vertically to slice meat like scissors. This allows them to swallow large chunks of soft tissue.
Without flat molars, dogs do not have the ability to grind their plant material. In the wild, eating a plant-based diet would offer fewer digestible nutrients than a meat-based diet.
It may not affect their ability to eat modern dog food, but it does point out an obviously carnivorous trait.
The pancreas is an important part of the digestive system. It is responsible for producing digestive enzymes that break down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
This organ is not specifically a carnivore trait, but in dogs, it is designed to most efficiently break down animal protein and fat.
For omnivores and herbivores, carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth, where the digestive enzyme Amylase is secreted in their saliva. The function of this enzyme is to break down carbohydrates.
Dogs do not have this omnivorous ability, and carbohydrate digestion happens only in the small intestine, like a carnivore.
Dogs are able to digest carbohydrates, but there may not be enough of the carb-eating enzyme to process the high carbohydrate content of many commercial diets, like kibble.
Stomach and Small Intestine
Dogs are capable of processing food quicker than typical omnivores. This is thanks to their large stomach capacity and short digestive tract.
Food spends more time in their stomach, soaking in the naturally acidic environment. That long acid bath is what allows them to break down protein, fats, and even bone.
Most importantly, it helps to prevent harmful bacteria from spreading, like bacteria present on raw meat. Preventing harmful bacteria from spreading is something that omnivores like us can not do.
To learn more about your dog's body breaks down food, check out The Dog Digestive System: A Beginners Guide to your Dog's Anatomy.
Length of the GI Tract
An herbivore has the longest GI tract with an amazing length of 100 feet. Within the multifaceted GI tract of an herbivore are distinct areas that foster cellulose fermentation which is notoriously difficult to break down. An herbivore has a rumen or cecum, which further breaks down the cellulose.
An omnivore has a GI tract that measures from 20 to 40 feet. The appendix found in the human digestive tract is an obsolete fermentation system affixed to the large intestine.
Felines have a digestive tract that measures from 12 to 15 feet because a cat devours easy-to-digest meats. Like a cat, the canine’s digestive tract is also noticeably short - measuring only around 24 inches.
Felines and canines have no area of the digestive tract reserved for the fermentation of cellulose.
Ability to Digest Starch
Starches and carbohydrates are classified as only ‘moderately’ digestible to canines. Digestibility is defined as the ability to digest and absorb specific nutrients within the gastrointestinal tract.
For a diet to be considered nutritious then it must contain nutrients that the dog can easily digest.
Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down dietary starches. Humans have amylase in their saliva, but dogs do not. Instead, a dog’s small intestines must break down and absorb both starches and carbohydrates.
If the starch has been ground, extruded, or cooked, then a dog can digest it, but uncooked starch is exceedingly difficult for a dog to digest.
The digestibility of uncooked starches ranges from 30 to 65%. Virtually all dog kibble is cooked so that a dog can more easily digest the starches.
Omnivorous Ability of Dogs
Although dogs have a carnivorously geared digestive system, they are capable of digesting plant matter better than obligate carnivores. In modern dog diets, the ingredients are all ground and mixed, so they don’t have to struggle with the cellulose casing that you’d see on unprocessed plant material.
Dogs can even survive on completely plant-based diets if that’s what you choose to feed. I’m sure you’ve noticed the rise in vegetarian and vegan dog foods hitting the market over the last 5-10 years.
Nutrients from plants may not be as plentiful as those from animal sources, but with carefully chosen ingredients and the right supplementation, a plant-based diet can provide dogs with the basics of what they need to live.
That being said, diets that include animal protein will provide nutrients that are easier to digest. Most commercial pet foods use protein from both plant and animal sources which can offer a wider variety of nutrients.
This is the difference between food that helps your dog survive versus food that allows them to thrive.
Propaganda and the Pet Food Industry
Dog food nutrition is confusing. Owners want to believe the big food manufacturers. Many pet owners erroneously think that their dogs must have a diet rich in grains and plants. Where did such a notion arise from? Most fingers point toward the pet food industry. Meat is an expensive commodity.
It carries a much higher price tag than oats, broccoli, grain, or wheat. Many companies argue that dogs need such ingredients to maintain health. Large corporations that are heavily invested in dog food brands regularly push a dog’s need for grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Eating Habits of Dogs
We must examine canine eating habits when debating the question, “Are dogs carnivores or omnivores?” Most of the canine eating behaviours match those of a carnivore and not an omnivore.
- Omnivores eat several times a day.
- Herbivores eat nonstop. Just look at cattle. They will graze all day.
- Carnivores have the ability to go a long time between meals, often only eating one large meal per day.
As a hunter or scavenger, a canine might not find prey or discarded carcass for days. They can comfortably flourish through the lean times without occasional meals. In fact, researchers have found that a can easily survive 100 days without food.
Other eating habits that dogs share with carnivores include digging holes to hide food.
Puppies will also display a strong prey drive when incredibly young. The pups will stalk and jump on each other as if they were attacking a prey animal.
Vitamins for Dogs
Dogs require vitamins - just like humans. However, they need low concentrations. Almost a century ago, vitamin deficiencies caused many health problems in canines kept as pets. Here are some of the most common deficiencies that an unbalanced diet may lead to:
- Vitamin A deficiency was one of the first deficiencies studied. If a dog does not receive sufficient Vitamin A, then they can suffer skin lesions, frequent infections, vision impairment and respiratory problems.
- Vitamin E deficiency causes reproductive and fertility problems, skeletal and muscle breakdown, and retinal degeneration.
- Thiamin deficiency that is sudden can lead to heart damage, brain lesions, neurological abnormalities, and death.
- Vitamin D is necessary in small doses, but in large doses can prove fatal.
Commercial dog foods are designed to offer appropriate levels of all of the essential vitamins and minerals that dogs need. These nutrients can be sourced from real food ingredients, but it's cheaper to mix in a few synthetic vitamins to buffer the foods and guarantee a complete and balanced meal.
Macronutrients for Dogs
Now that you know how your dog is designed to eat, let’s talk about the different nutrients that their bodies need and where to get them. These are two terms that we used to help categorize different types of nutrients required in your dog’s diet.
- Macronutrients are the structural components of dog food: protein, carbs, and fat. Each of these is digested differently and used to supply energy and nutrition to every part of their body.
- Micronutrients are the nutrients that the body gets from digesting macronutrients. Vitamins, minerals, and amino acids are all micronutrients.
Macronutrients are the foundation of your dog’s diet, so they will be the focus of this article. Understanding what they do and why your dog needs them will help you assess their food and make the most beneficial and nutritious diet choices for them.
To learn more about essential micronutrients in your dog's food, check out How to Read & Understand Pet Food Labels.
Protein for Dogs
What is a protein used for? Everything! Protein plays a role in literally every part of your dog’s body.
It provides energy used for building and maintaining muscle mass, and supports all systems of the body, like skeletal structure cell growth, and even helps to regulate pH balance in the body.
All enzymes are made up of proteins, too, so proteins are essential to your dog's immune system and hormone production.
To help you better understand why proteins are such an integral part of your dog's health, let's break apart protein, literally, to find out what exactly it provides and how your dog's body uses them.
When proteins are digested, they break down into amino acids. Amino acids are the most important micronutrient in your dog's diet. They are used to build new proteins, such as the proteins that make up hormones, muscles, and even cells.
Dogs are able to synthesize some amino acids on their own, but there are 10 amino acids that they can’t make. They are called essential amino acids, meaning they must be obtained through diet. Without them, many systems in your dog’s body that rely on those amino acids will not function properly.
Animal proteins are complete, meaning they contain all 10 of the essential amino acids and even some non-essential ones.
Essential amino acids can be found in plant proteins as well, but only a small number of plant proteins contain all 10.
Essential Amino Acids
Here’s a chart outlining the benefits of each essential amino acid for dogs and one bonus amino acid:
|Important for blood vessel dilation and improved circulation
|Maintains hemoglobin, improving oxygen circulation to the whole body
|Aids in keratin synthesis to promote healthy skin and coat
|Plays a role in energy production
|Involved in healthy muscle development and protein synthesis
|In healthy muscle development and protein synthesis
|In healthy muscle development and protein synthesis
|Required for thyroid and adrenal gland function
|Aids in protein synthesis for growth and development
|Necessary for hormone production like serotonin and melatonin
Sources of Amino Acids
Amino acids are found in all proteins, with the highest concentration and variety from animal protein.
Animal protein provides a complete spectrum of essential amino acids, all of which are required to maintain and support all of the body’s functions. They are a chain, so when one of them is missing, the rest can’t perform adequately. One such requirement you are likely familiar with is omega-3 fatty acids.
Although plants do provide digestible protein usable for energy, plant sources lack high enough levels of many of the essential amino acids required in your dog’s diet. This is why we recommend that a large portion of the protein that your dog consumes is sourced from an animal.
Many brands use plants to increase their food’s protein content and give consumers the perception of high quality and high animal inclusion. Be cautious of where your macronutrients are coming from.
Bioavailability is a term used to describe the ability of a nutrient to be absorbed by a living organism. The term bioavailability is commonly used to indicate the quality of a macronutrient.
Meat often has a higher biological value than most grains, furthering the argument that dogs are carnivorous in nature.
For example, eggs have a very high biological value, meaning that they are easy to digest, and the nutrients and benefits of eggs are easily absorbed and utilized by the body.
Although they are generally not the main source of protein, eggs are often added to boost the bioavailability of dry food and ensure that your dog is receiving the appropriate quantity and balance of amino acids, energy, minerals, and vitamins.
Carbohydrates for Dogs
Next, let’s talk about carbohydrates. Carbohydrates can provide many essential nutrients but are often over or inappropriately used in modern pet foods.
All carbs are not created equally, and finding the right dry food for your dog or cat means looking for the right types and quantities of carbohydrates.
Types of Carbohydrates for Dogs
Some carbs are better for your dog or cat than others. Let’s break down the four types of carbohydrates so that you can see how some carbs are better than others.
Absorbable carbohydrates are a quick energy source. Your dog or cat will use these to metabolize and digest their food, as well as supply energy to various systems of the body.
Absorbable carbs have a rapid effect on blood sugar levels, so too many absorbable carbs in their diet can lead to unused energy that needs to be stored.
Sugar is a good example of an absorbable carbohydrate. You won’t see sugar in the ingredients of any good quality foods, but you may see things like honey, molasses, caramel, and beet pulp.
Excessive sugars in your dog’s diet can contribute to digestive issues. The sugars feed bacteria, good and bad. Limit the amount of this type of carb to reduce unnecessary weight gain, excess sugars, or unused energy.
Digestible carbohydrates, or starches as we know them, take a little longer to digest. Enzymes in the small intestine are needed to break down starches into an absorbable format. Starches are used for energy, just like absorbable carbs are.
Starches found in pet food include potatoes, rice, wheat, or corn. Starches take slightly longer to digest but can still have a significant effect on blood sugar if overfed.
Dogs, lacking the amylase enzyme in their saliva, have a harder time digesting starches than an omnivore would, so feed these in moderation.
Fermentable carbohydrates are used by the bacteria in your dog’s intestines as a source of food. These are known as prebiotics. They ferment during digestion and produce sugars that are then used to feed existing bacteria in their gut.
You will often find prebiotics in commercial dog foods in the form of alfalfa or chicory root. Fermentable carbs are a healthy carbohydrate source, but overfeeding prebiotics can still cause problems.
Only certain types of bacteria can survive the acidic environment of your dog’s stomach, so supplementing healthy bacteria in their diet isn’t always effective. Instead, adding prebiotics to their food will help to replenish your dog’s natural levels of healthy bacteria and improve digestion.
non-fermentable carbohydrates are strictly a source of fibre. Fibre does not break down into sugars or energy. Instead, it acts as a digestion regulator. Fibre is essential to healthy digestion and should always be included in your dog’s diet.
There are two types of non-fermentable fibre that your dog’s body needs to maintain healthy digestion: Soluble and insoluble.
- Soluble fibre attracts water, slows digestion, and contributes to a feeling of fullness. It can be found in foods like oatmeal and berries.
- Insoluble fibre adds bulk and speeds movement through the digestive system. Brown rice is a great source of insoluble fibre.
One of the best sources of fibre to supplement your dog’s diet is pumpkin. Pumpkin is a source of both soluble and insoluble fibre, so it can regulate the speed of digestion. This is why it can be used for both dog diarrhea and constipation relief.
Simple Carbs vs. Complex Carbs
How quickly a carbohydrate digests can have a big impact on the value of that carb and the nutrients it offers. They can be classified as either simple or complex.
Often called simple sugars, simple carbs have less value in your dog’s diet than a complex carbohydrate does. It doesn't mean you can’t feed simple sugars, but they do not offer much nutrition apart from a quick energy source. Simple sugar is made of a single sugar molecule, like glucose or fructose.
Complex carbs take longer to digest and release sugar into the blood slower. They are typically made up of many sugar molecules that are linked together. Your dog’s body has to separate the molecules, which leads to a slower release into their blood.
Complex carbs may contain fibre and other nutrients, making them more nutritious to your dog.
When choosing a dog food, opt for complex carbs over simple carbs, but remember that too many of either can still cause the food to be unhealthy. Foods should be rich in meat and fat and complemented with limited complex carbohydrates.
Effects of Carbohydrates on Blood Glucose Levels
The effect that food has on your dog’s blood sugar is called the glycemic effect. By studying the glycemic effect of specific ingredients in humans, scientists were able to create the glycemic index, which is a number system for rating ingredients.
High-quality diets should primarily include carbohydrates that have a low GI (glycemic index) value. Foods considered high glycemic release sugar into the bloodstream quickly, causing your dog’s blood sugar levels to spike up and rapidly drop when the sugars are used or stored by their body.
Quick drops in blood sugar can contribute to a feeling of hunger and can lead to overeating and weight issues. To help your dog feel full after eating and to help regulate weight, it’s best to avoid foods that use a lot of high-glycemic ingredients.
- Wheat and corn are two common dog food ingredients that have a high glycemic rating.
- Peas and quinoa are both low glycemic and release sugars into the bloodstream at a steadier rate.
When excess glucose enters the bloodstream, the pancreas is called upon to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin stores blood sugar in liver cells for later use.
As blood sugar levels are depleted, the pancreas produces a hormone called glucagon, which signals the release of blood sugar from the liver to be properly distributed throughout the body.
Glycemic Index for Dogs
The glycemic index used for humans is different from levels determined for dogs.
Potatoes have a human glycemic rating of 90; that’s very high but also misleading. Potatoes are high glycemic for humans, but in dogs, they have a low glycemic rating of only 34.
More research and data are needed to give us a more accurate measure of glycemic values in dogs, so for now. We work with the human glycemic index for most ingredients.
Unfortunately, this means that trying to determine the glycemic values of your dog food ingredients is less of a science and more of an educated guesstimate.
The Glycemic Load
Your dog’s food is a mixture of different ingredients, in different quantities, with different glycemic values. When you put all of those values together, you get the total glycemic load of their diet.
Avoiding high-glycemic ingredients, like wheat and corn, can help, but low-glycemic ingredients used excessively can still have a negative effect on blood sugar.
A small amount of a high glycemic ingredient may end up having a lesser effect on your dog than a large portion of a low glycemic ingredient when weighed as part of the total food.
Stick to low glycemic ingredients whenever possible, and make sure that all carbohydrates are fed in moderation. Foods with a high meat inclusion, high protein, and low carbohydrates are going to have a lesser effect on blood sugar levels than a carb-heavy diet.
Fats and Oils
Fat is the next macronutrient for dogs. Fat in food is often stigmatized by the way we think about our own diets, but fat can be good! All dog foods will have fat in them, but the quantity and types of fat very depending on the formula.
Do Dogs Need Fat?
Fat is a required nutrient in your dog’s diet, and while fat should be fed in moderation, make sure that you don’t limit fat too much. We see this in cases of extreme weight loss, where very low-fat diets are fed. Cutting out fat means depriving your dog’s body of vital energy and nutrition.
We’ve been told for years that fat is bad and that fat makes us fat. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that it could make our pets fat too!
Of course, too much fat combined with low activity is a recipe for a pudgy pup, but the right kind of fat is extremely healthy. In fact, it’s downright necessary.
There are two kinds of fat that our pets need: Facilitating fats and Functional fats.
- Functional Fats - monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, either plays an important role in the structural or functional process of cells or can support cell function.
- Facilitating Fats - saturated fat, is an easily digested, concentrated source of energy. Your dog also needs saturated fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamins in their food. Most of the fat in your dog’s food is designed to provide energy.
Both facilitative and functional fats are needed to support your dog’s overall health. Like all nutrients, the quantity and quality of the fat must be taken into consideration.
Can dogs have too much fat?
You will often see facilitating fat fairly high up in the ingredient list. It could be named animal fat or even plant oils, like canola oil. This fat provides easily usable energy to support activity and metabolism.
Healthy dogs are capable of digesting high levels of facilitating fat in their diets, but just like carbs, the energy provided by fat must be used, or else your dog will start to pack on pounds.
Canine obesity, caused by excessive calories and a low active lifestyle, increases the chances of many weight and age-related conditions. Some can be painful and require life-long treatment, while others can quickly become life-threatening.
Are Fat Dogs Unhealthy?
Being overweight can lead to more serious health issues.
Acute pancreatitis, for example, is the sudden inflammation of the pancreas and can be linked to obesity and poor diet. The pancreas, whose jobs include digestive enzyme production and blood sugar regulation, is a vital part of your dog’s body.
When inflammation in the pancreas occurs, the digestive enzymes it produces are forced out of the pancreas and into your dog’s abdominal cavity. Here, they get to work doing what they do best - digesting.
Since the only things in their abdomen are their own tissues, that’s what the enzymes digest. Essentially your dog’s body starts eating away at itself. It's very dangerous and could become quickly life-threatening if left untreated.
Essential Fatty Acids
Fatty acids are a type of functional fat. This means that they are needed to support cells and systems in your dog’s body.
Dogs are capable of making many omega fatty acids, but like amino acids, some types must be supplemented in their diet. These are called essential fatty acids.
5 Essential Fatty Acids
There are five essential fatty acids. Fortunately, all of them have common dietary sources.
1&2. EPA and DHA
Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid. Don’t worry about trying to pronounce these ones; they are commonly referred to as EPA and DHA, respectively. These fatty acids are sourced from the same foods, so they come as a pair.
EPA and DHA are both Omega 3 Fatty Acids that are primarily sourced from fish and fish oils. They can also be found in some kelp and sea-grasses, but they are much more difficult to source and not commonly used in commercial pet food.
Both essential fatty acids support the immune system and cell growth:
- EPA can reduce inflammation to support mobility, pain management, and skin and coat health.
- DHA is vital to both retinal and heart function and is an important nutrient during growth stages and pregnancy. Perhaps its most important benefit is its role in cognitive function. Dogs of all ages will benefit from this functional fat, but puppies and senior dogs will benefit the most.
3. Alpha-Linolenic Acid
Another essential fatty acid from the Omega 3 family is Alpha-Linolenic Acid. This fatty acid can be found in animal and plant sources. Your dog’s body can use Alpha-Linolenic Acid to make EPA and DHA, but not very well. Less than 20% of the Alpha-Linolenic Acid is converted.
The good news is even though ALA supplementation doesn’t lead to large amounts of EPA or DHA production, it does contribute to the overall total and increases a type of fat compound, called a prostaglandin, derived from EPA that helps to regulate inflammation.
Your dog’s food will probably list levels of omega fatty acids, but it won’t tell you which fatty acids are present in the food. If there are no fish oils or fish products in your dog’s food, then it would be smart to supplement their diet with fish oils.
Even if your dog’s food does contain fish, it’s impossible to know how many of the nutrients survived the cooking process. Supplementing fish oils, even just once per week, can have a huge impact on your dog’s health over time.
4. Linoleic Acid
Linoleic Acid is an Omega 6 Fatty Acid that is most commonly found in plant oils such as safflower, flaxseed, and olive oil.
The main functions of Linoleic Acids are to support skin and coat, bone density, and reproductive health. It can also be sourced from animal proteins like chicken and pork, but not as abundantly as in plant matter.
5. Arachidonic Acid
A lesser-known but incredibly vital, Omega 6 Fatty Acid is Arachidonic Acid. The main benefit of this omega 6 is its pro-inflammatory properties.
It may sound a bit crazy to want inflammation, but it’s very important to your pet's immune system and defensive capabilities. Without appropriate inflammation responses, your dog’s body is susceptible to pathogens, bacteria, and anything else that could attack their body.
Although its role is to promote inflammation, when supplemented properly with other fatty acids, Arachidonic Acid will help to regulate inflammation and support your dog’s immune system.
The Fatty Acid Balance
Essential fatty acids maintain the most vital systems in your dog's body, so it is incredibly important that they are provided in your dog's diet. Each essential fatty acid has its own unique benefits, but they work best when used together.
The Omega 3 and 6 Ratio
The ideal ratio of omega 3 to 6 fatty acids for dogs is about 1:4, meaning there should be 4 times as much omega 6 to omega 3. This allows each fatty acid to work the most efficiently.
Although fatty acids are supplemented in most dog foods, the ratio isn’t always right for every dog. Dogs with allergies or skin issues can benefit from more Omega 3’s in their diet.
It's not just about the ratio, either. Look at how much, where they are sourced from, and which EFA's are used. Fats and oils can come from poor sources, and quality affects how well your dog can use them.
Don’t Forget Water
When considering nutrition first dog food, you might overlook water as an important part of your pet’s diet. Yes, you know that all dogs need water to live, but is your dog getting enough water to properly digest its food and obtain maximum dog nutrition? Water plays a vital role in your pet’s digestive system and body functions.
Benefits of water:
- Effectively breaks down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
- Regulates body temperatures.
- Maintains the dog’s eye health.
- Lubricates joints.
- Provides protection to the nervous system.
- Helps the body function and maintain its shape.
Your dog should consume two and a half times the amount of water as dry kibble. If your dog is fed wet dog food, then the pet will consume less water per day due to the food's higher moisture content.
Always ensure that your dog has access to fresh, clean water. Keep an eye on how much your dog drinks per day. If your pet should suddenly start consuming an excessive amount of water or stop drinking, then you’ll need to promptly seek veterinary help because your pup might be suffering from a health problem.
Apply Your New Knowledge
Now that you know your dog's basic dietary needs, it's time to take a look at their diet and their overall health. If you are concerned that your dog isn't as healthy as they should be, then you may need to consider that their staple diet may be missing a key component.
Every pet is different, and what may work for one dog may not be sufficient for another.
Catering to both carnivorous and omnivorous traits makes canine nutrition very dynamic. There isn't going to be a one-size-fits-all option, regardless of what dog food companies advertise. Instead, you can try different diets with unique features and benefits to find the food that helps your dog thrive.
Check out our Dog Food Guide for more help finding the right food for your pet.
Consider Canine Supplements
Supplementation can also be helpful, particularly with fibre, omega fatty acids and digestive enzymes. Some dogs need more of these than others, and they aren't always available in abundant enough quantities through their diet.
So go ahead and try out something new. You may be surprised by the difference an appropriately balanced diet and proper nutritional supplements can yield.
Dog Nutrition FAQ
Does my dog need meat?
Dogs are remarkably adaptable. They were first domesticated thousands of years ago when early humankind noticed they were camp scavengers. However, even with a canine’s omnivore characteristics, its need for meat-based protein cannot be overlooked. Given a choice, a dog will pick meat over plants.
How much fibre should a dog eat?
Most dogs consume a diet that contains from 2.5 to 4.5% fibre. The fibre content of many commercial dog foods is much higher because it makes the dog feel full for longer. Fibre is favoured in weight control formulas too.
Fibre can help control blood sugar levels. Fibre is also believed to improve the function of the large intestine. However, fibre is very much a balancing act. Too much fibre will give your dog loose stool.
How often should I feed my dog?
You should feed your adult dog one to two times per day and your puppy a minimum of two to three times per day, depending on their breed, lifestyle, and growth stage.
How can I help my dog lose weight?
If your canine companion is overweight, then you’ll want to focus on feeding a weight-management food source. At Homes Alive Pets, we sell a wide range of weight management and low-calorie dog foods to help control your dog’s weight. You should always avoid feeding your furry friend table scraps and excessive carbohydrates.
Can my dog eat cat food?
Yes, your dog can eat cat food, but the canine will not thrive. Dogs and cats have quite different nutritional needs. Cat food is high in protein which can lead to obesity in dogs and other health problems. Some dogs who are not used to an excessive amount of protein might develop loose stools.
Canned or dry dog food, which is better for dogs?
There is no easy answer about which food is better for dogs. Dry kibble and wet dog foods have all been formulated to meet a canine’s nutritional needs. Dry kibble has a higher caloric density than wet dog food.
A large dog often benefits from being fed a combination of wet dog food and dry kibble. It’s often hard for a large dog to eat only wet dog food and obtain enough calories. Nowadays, you can also opt to feed your dog a raw diet or freeze dried dog foods that are loaded with flavour and nutrients.
Can I feed my dog a vegetarian or vegan diet?
While dogs have the ability to digest and derive nutrients from plant-based foods, they are still primarily carnivorous animals with a natural inclination towards meat-based protein. Feeding a dog a vegetarian or vegan diet requires careful planning and consideration to ensure they receive all the essential nutrients they need.
Are there specific foods I should avoid feeding my dog?
Yes, there are certain foods that can be harmful or toxic to dogs and should be avoided. Some common examples include chocolate, grapes and raisins, onions and garlic, caffeine, alcohol, and xylitol (a sugar substitute found in some products). It's important to learn which are unsafe for dogs..
Should I add supplements to my dog's diet?
If you are feeding your dog a complete and balanced commercial dog food, supplements are not normally necessary. However, there may be certain cases where supplements can be beneficial, such as for dogs with specific health conditions or deficiencies or senior pets.
Can I switch my dog's food abruptly, or should I transition gradually?
It's generally recommended to transition your dog's food slowly to minimize digestive upset. Sudden changes in diet can lead to gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea or vomiting. To transition, start by mixing a small amount of the new food with the old food, gradually increasing the proportion of the new food over several days or weeks until your dog is solely on the new diet. This allows your furry friend’s digestive system to adjust to the new food.
Now that you have a better idea of what your dog needs to thrive, hop over to Dog Food Guide for Beginners to find out if your dog's current diet is giving them what they need!